PHC stays govt order against Chitral land settlement

PESHAWAR: Peshawar High Court has extended a stay order preventing the provincial government from taking final decision in the land settlement process in districts of Upper and Lower Chitral in accordance with a five-decade old notification challenged before the court.

A bench consisting of Justice Syed Mohammad Attique Shah and Justice Wiqar Ahmad adjourned hearing to September 11 of a petition jointly filed by more than 100 residents of Chitral against a 1975’s notification, which declared Chitral region’s all mountains, wastelands, jungles, pastures and riverbeds the property of the provincial government.

When the bench took up for hearing the matter, an additional advocate general, Mohammad Bashar Naveed, submitted that since the case concerned the legality of the land settlement of two districts the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa advocate general would himself argue the matter.

He requested the bench that as the AG was busy before Supreme Court in Islamabad, therefore, the hearing might be put off.

Asks petitioners, respondents to submit written arguments

Barrister Asadul Mulk, Dr Adnan Khan and Muhibullah Tarichvi appeared on behalf of petitioners, whereas senior assistant secretary Board of Revenue, Saadullah Khan, and superintendent at deputy commissioner office, Lower Chitral, Zahir Shah also turned up in the matter.

Barrister Mulk stated that government had been seeking an adjournment in the case since 2019 on one pretext or the other, and in view of the governments delaying tactics written arguments should be called for so that if the government continued to use such tactics then the case might be decided on available record and in light of the written arguments.

While adjourning the hearing, the bench directed that lawyers appearing for all the parties in the case were directed to file their respective comprehensive and detailed written arguments covering all aspects of the case since 1975 when the impugned regulation was issued along with all judgements of that and the Supreme Court which had decided the controversies arising out of the impugned regulation from time to time.

In 2022, the high court had granted interim relief to the petitioners directing the provincial government to continue with the land settlement process but not to make a final decision till further orders.

The petitioners including former MNA Shahzada Iftikharuddin, former MPA Ghulam Mohammad and others claimed that they represented the region’s entire population.

The petitioners have challenged several portions of a 1975’s notification of the provincial (then NWFP’s) government claiming the notification declared all mountains, wastelands, forests, pastures and riverbeds in Chitral to be the property of the provincial government.

They requested the court to order a halt to the land settlement exercise over the ‘sequestration of their private or collective properties’.

The petitioners’ counsel claimed that as land settlement in Upper and Lower Chitral districts was in full swing, the government relying on the ambiguous notification issued by home and tribal affairs department in July 1975 was bent opon declaring all mountains, wastelands, jungles, pastures and riverbeds in Chitral to be properties of the provincial government.

They stated that 97 per cent of the total land mass of Chitral region was registered in the name of the provincial government that was unfathomable and against Article 172(1) of the Constitution.

They said that there were several statutory and constitutional defects in the notification. They said the impugned parts of the notification were too vague and ambiguous to be the subject of legal enforcement and were without judicious illumination.

“Less than three per cent area of Upper and Lower Chitral districts consists of arable land. If the 1975’s notification is allowed to stand, the people of Chitral are at risk of being deprived of their ancestral property and reduced to non-entities,” said Barrister Mulk.   .. Source 

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